Hidden Treasure

No matter what happens in the future, Miller will never be a hidden treasure again. One can't help but wonder what kind of career Miller, still only 28, would be having had he been unleashed by the Cardinals as a rookie in 1994. He'd probably still be with Arizona.

Every so often, a story appears on television or in the newspaper about a priceless Van Gogh or other painting being found by someone in a loft.

More's the pity if the original owner of that painting knew what he had and kept it from the world out of spite or fear it wouldn't be his anymore.

Jamir Miller, in his eighth season, was like that hidden painting for seven years until Butch Davis took the tarp off the 6-foot-5, 266-pound linebacker this season. No matter what happens in the future, Miller will never be a hidden treasure again. One can't help but wonder what kind of career Miller, still only 28, would be having had he been unleashed by the Cardinals as a rookie in 1994. He'd probably still be with Arizona.

Miller has 13 sacks in 2001. He had only 23 his first seven seasons. With one game to play, he has a chance to reach 15 at least. The NFL record for sacks in a season is 22 by Mark Gastineau of the Jets in 1984.

"I've always felt I'm one of the better linebackers in the league," Miller said. "Now I want everyone else to understand I am one of the best. It's kind of a coming out party for me. I'm having fun helping my team win. Sometimes we have bad luck, but we're still growing."

An epidemic of injuries to the defensive line has made Miller a defensive end. He sacked Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell three times Dec. 16 ­ the first three-sack game of his career. That is more than he had for the entire season in 1995 and '96 (one each) and tied his season totals in 1994 and 1998.

"I said a few weeks ago my goal was double digit sacks, but I didn't say what digit," Miller said. "I'm just trying to push forward and get as many as I can. I have my eyes on a mark. When I hit it, I'll let people know. I'll say I reached my personal goal. Obviously, I haven't hit it yet."

Miller leads the AFC in sacks. No Brown has ever done that since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. And it isn't just the sack total that has made this a special season for Miller. Many sack specialists, Gastineau in-cluded, didn't do much else.

Miller leads the Browns with 107 tackles. He has 27 quarterback pressures, tying Gerard Warren for the team lead, and he has two forced fumbles. The latter statistic might not seem overwhelming, but he forced only two while making 728 tackles in his first seven years.

"I think Jamir is more focused," cornerback Corey Fuller said. "I think Butch has brought more focus to every guy. Jamir has always been a constant pro, but when Butch came in he turned it up a notch.

"Jamir has never been in a winning situation in the NFL. It's getting to the point now he realizes his biological clock is starting to run out. He just wants to win. He's playing hard every Sunday. He's a great leader in the locker room and off the field. That's what matters the most."

Miller's teammates voted him winner of the Ed Block Courage Award in 2000. It is an award presented annually after the season to the player who exemplifies courage, compassion, commitment and community service.

Miller was often taken off the field the last two seasons when the Browns removed a linebacker in favor of an extra defensive back. Whatever frustration he felt at having his talents ignored under Chris Palmer -- and his two head coaches while with the Cardinals -- he kept inside because he is a consummate team player.

Miller sustained a shoulder separation trying to tackle Rams quarterback Kurt Warner in 1999. He missed one game and played the rest of the season hurt. His performance in 1999 after the Rams game wasn't as good as it was before the injury, but he never used the fact he was tackling with one arm as an excuse. He still ended up with 147 tackles, but only one sack in the eight games after the injury. He made 108 tackles last year.

As the leader of the defense, Miller by definition is leader of the team, because the offense has found scoring so difficult. Miller, though, isn't about calling Tim Couch out and telling the offense it isn't carrying its fair share.

"Sometimes you have different phases of the team struggle," Miller said. "You can struggle on offense, you can struggle on defense and you can struggle on special teams. One side of the ball needs to pick up the slack for the other side. That's what we're trying to do."

Davis said Miller was "heroic" to play defensive end against the Jaguars as he did. He'll probably have to do the same against the Steelers in the finale, because Courtney Brown is still bothered by a sprained ankle as this is being written.

"If I could have drafted him when I was in Dallas, he never would have been a linebacker," Davis said, referring to his time as defensive coordinator of the Cowboys. "Today we'd be talking about Jamir closing in on 125 sacks for his career. He'd have double digit sacks every year.

"Pass rushers are so difficult to find in this league. If you have guys who can get to the quarterback, you can determine the outcome of ballgames. They can cover for the sins of a lot of guys. They can cover from guys that struggle in coverage because the quarterback has somebody hanging around his neck."

Miller could be a "hybrid" linebacker/defensive end the remainder of his career, but at this point making him a fulltime defensive end is unlikely, Davis said.

This chart shows Jamir Miller's tackles and sacks game by game.

Seahawks Five Two 8
Lions Seven None 0
Jaguars Six Two 9
Chargers Eight One 6
Bengals Ten None 0
Ravens Seven One 14
Bears Eleven None 0
Steelers Ten One 3
Ravens Seven One 8
Bengals Six None 0
Titans Eight None 0
Patriots Ten Two 4
Jaguars Seven Three 20
Packers Four None 0

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